The Constitution, Citizenship, Design of the Taney Decision

    Source citation
    “The Constitution, Citizenship, Design of the Taney Decision,” Vermont Watchman
    and State Journal
    , 6 August 1857, p. 1, col. 2-3.
    Date Certainty
    Matthew Dudek
    The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and other typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.

    The writer of the following article in the Independent may be right or wrong in his opinion as to the motive which led to the remarkable statements of Chief Justice Taney; but we have no where seen so complete a refutation of them in so small a compass:
    From the N.Y. Independent.
    The fourth section of the Articles of Confederation reads thus: “The free inhabitants of each of these free States, paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives excepted, shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several States.”
    To this article South Carolina and Georgia objected. It was referred to the several State Legislatures. In June, 1778, it was again considered, having been submitted to the different State Legislatures. The delegates of South Carolina, under instruction, moved to amend this fourth article by inserting the restrictive word “WHITE” after free and before “inhabitants,” so as to read “free white inhabitants.” This motion was discussed and negatved-South Carolina and Georgia alone voting for it, whilst the vote of Virginia was divided.
    The Legislature of Virginia, in May 1779, incorporated in a statute the restrictive word “white,” which had been rejected by the Congress of the preceding year, thus hoping to limit the action of the fourth article of confederation. In the year 1783, this statute of 1779 was repealed, and in its place was substituted the following: -“All free persons born within the territory of this Commonwealth SHALL BE DEEMED CITIZENS OF THIS COMMONWEALTH.” (Statutes at Large, vol. xi. p. 324.) This law of 1783 stood unchanged through all the revisions of the statutes until January 6th, 1826, when it was repealed.
    Thus at the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, the free colored people of Virginia were, by the express statute of 1783, regarded as citizens of that Commonwealth.
    Additional evidence is found in the following statements: “All free males persons between the age of 16 and 60 shall, by the commanding officer of the county in which they reside, be enrolled or formed into companies, the free mulattoes in said companies or battalions to be employed as drummers, fifers and pioneers.” Again: “All free born male inhabitants above the age of 16 must take the oath of allegiance.” (Statutes at Large, vol. ix. p. 267-280 and 281.)
    When, in the year of 1788, the Constitution of the United States was adopted, of the 13 independent sovereignties, 11 were ready to vote for the immediate abolition of slavery; only South Carolina and Georgia withheld consent. So also, in 11 of the 13 States free colored persons were regarded as citizens. In the war of the Revolution they were regularly enlisted into the army, and fought, bled and suffered in the protracted struggles for liberty as resolutely as did the whites. When the Constitution was finally adopted, they were, in 11 if not 12 States, entitled to vote, and in all human probability, did vote, either directly or through their representatives.
    According to the census of 1790, there were in the slave States 32,357 free colored persons, and in the free States there were 27,109 free persons of color-in all, 59,466 free persons of color. Here, then, we have in the year 1790 about 11,000 colored voters in the United States.
    From the very beginning of our government, protections have been given to free colored seaman as citizens of the United States, entitled to the protection of the United States as citizens. During the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, he issued a proclamation by reason of the outrage committed against the United States, when the Leopard, an English armed vessel, took out of the Chesapeake, one of our vessels, “four American citizens, two being white and two being colored citizens.”
    In 1843, James Ash, a Maryland negro slave, sued for his liberty in the Circuit Court of the United States of the district of Columbia. It was carried up to the United States Supreme Court, where his Honor, Chief Justice Taney, thus delivered the decision of the Court:-“This case is brought here by writ of error from the Circuit Court, and came before the Court upon a petition for freedom. It appeared upon the trial that the petitioner was the property of Mary Ann Greenfield, of Prince George’s county, in the State of Maryland, who died in 1824, having duly made her last will and testament, whereby, among other things, she bequeathed the petitioner, with sundry other slaves, to her nephew, G.T. Greenfield, with a proviso in the following words: ‘Provided he shall not carry them out of the State of Maryland, or sell them to any one; in either of which events I will and devise the said negroes to be free for life.’ Upon the death of the testatrix, G.T. Greenfield took possession of the petitioner (James Ash) until December, 1839, when he sold the petitioner to defendant (Williams), and the petition was filed shortly after sale. Upon this evidence the Circuit Court instructed the jury, that by the fact of such sale of the petitioner the estate or property of the petitioner, so bequeathed to Greenfield, ceased and determined, and he therefore beeame [sic] entitled to his freedom. We think a bequest in the will was a conditional limitation of freedom to the petitioner, and that it took effect the moment he was sold; the judgment of the Circuit Court is therefore affirmed.” (Williams vs. Ash, Howard’s Reports, vol.i.,p.12-14.) Here a slave who never had been free sued in the United States Court for his freedom, and Chief Justice Taney recognized him as entitled to sue to make his claim for his rights. The Supreme Court exercised jurisdiction, heard his plea, decided that his claim was a right one, and gave him freedom.
    In the year 1857, the same Chief Justice Taney, in giving his opinion in the case of Dred Scott, who also sued for his freedom, declared that the Court had no jurisdiction, inasmuch as a colored man-a descendant of the African race-is not and cannot be a citizen of the United States; cannot sue in any Court of the Untied States. He also made the following statement: “History shows that they have for more than a century been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and unfit associates for the white race, either socially or politically, and had NO RIGHTS WHICH WHITE MEN WERE BOUND TO RESPECT, and that the black man might be reduced to slavery, bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise.- This opinion at that time was fixed and universal with the civilized portion of the white race. It was regarded as an axiom in morals, which no one thought of disputing, and every one habitually acted upon it, without doubting for a moment the correctness of the opinion.”
    Wherefore this change of judgment or opinion? Wherefore this ignoring all the facts proving that free colored persons were citizens in eleven, if not twelve, out of the thirteen States at the time of the adoption of the Constitution. There is a motive for this bold position. It cannot be the fact that a few thousands of free colored persons, scattered over the States of the Union, are voting citizens. The solution may be learned by considering a few recent facts. Put these things together:
    1. There is a strong desire, in certain quarters, to possess Cuba, and add it to the Union as a slave State.
    2. The Ostend Manifesto strongly declares the necessity of possessing the Island of Cuba to secure the prosperity and peace of the United States.
    3. The Governor-General of Cuba has plainly intimated that in the event of the invasion of Cuba, all the slaves on the island would be set free, and made free citizens.- The effect of this would be that these freed persons, being the majority of citizens, would settle the Constitution of the newly acquired territory, and thus secure it against slavery and for liberty.
    Now, it is to meet this contingency that this decision is made. That as by the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, made in 1857, no African, nor descendant of an African can be a citizen of the United States, so when Cuba is conquered, not one of the colored population, though free citizens, can vote on any question touching the formation of its new Constitution.- This is the reach-the animus-of the decision of Chief Justice Taney, to which President Buchanan, of Ostend Manifesto celebrity, pledges himself to bow with entire submission. Let every friend of liberty, let every man who would not blush for his country, ponder these things and do his duty.

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